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Complementary Therapies; Endophyte - There is a Fungus Among us

This article was the 23rd in a series of columns under the heading Observations from the Pasture in the GALA Newsletter. It was originally published in December 2003.

GALA 2003

Jeanne and I are GALA Conference junkies. We have not missed a year since acquiring our first llamas. The learning process never ends. Not only is the state of knowledge in the industry progressing but also it is good to refresh one’s knowledge and techniques. While keeping ourselves up-to-date is our primary objective when attending these conferences, we also have a lot of fun.

Endophyte - There is a Fungus among Us

I attended You Are What You Eat presented by Dr. David Barker, Department of Horticulture and Crop Science at Ohio State University. I had been unaware that there is a fungus frequently found in tall fescue and rye grass that produces the alkaloid ergovaline, an animal toxin. Amongst the effects of ergovaline are rough coat, staggers, fescue-foot, abortion, elevated temperature and reduced growth. The fungus is not found in bluegrass, orchardgrass, timothy, clover and alfalfa.

The fungus lives within the plant and does not alter the appearance of the grass. It has a symbiotic relationship with the grass. The fungus gains nutrition and protection. The grass derives the benefits of insect resistance, environmental tolerance (e.g., drought resistance) and reduced grazing.

The fungus is seed borne and since the infected grass has a survival advantage over the non-infected grass; it will tend to become predominant with the passage of time.

As noted above while the fungus infection is detrimental to animals, it presents an advantage to those producing seed for turf (as opposed to producing seed for pasture). Thus we can anticipate that future turf varieties will be infected with increasingly toxic endophytes as the turf seed producers seek to improve the quality of their product. It is essential that the lama owner avoid the use of seed designed for turf and use seed specifically designated for use in the development of forage. Another area of concern is your source of hay.

Non-toxic endophytes have been discovered and show promise in the development of forage quality tall fescue and rye grass with the same advantages of insect resistance and environmental tolerance now found in turf varieties.

If you are interested in improving the quality of forage in your pastures the following websites may prove helpful :

Ohio Forage Network

Oregon State University

Penn State

University of Kentucky

Complementary Therapies

This year there were several sessions on complementary therapies. I attended Acupuncture for Camelids presented by Dr. Linda Morris and Lamassage presented by Nancy Simerl. I found both sessions interesting and of importance to lama owners.

I was interested in the session on acupuncture because I underwent acupuncture this past year and found it to be both a helpful and an enjoyable experience. Acupuncture is definitely not a do-it-yourself activity. It is also a regimen that requires repeated regular application over a period of time. For our lamas this limits its use to those geographic areas where a qualified veterinarian acupuncturist is available.

It is possible, however, to learn some massage therapy techniques which can be helpful to your animals (and yourself). Those of us who attended Nancy’s session not only received an excellent set of notes but also had the opportunity to work on ourselves. If you are interested in learning more about massage as a therapy you may wish to find a copy of The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook by Clair Davies (currently $15.61 at Amazon.com).

Emergency Transport

Each fall I have our local John Deere dealer pick up our farm equipment for annual maintenance. The truck driver who picked up our equipment wanted to know where I had acquired our trailer. He mentioned how much difficulty he has had in borrowing one on a timely basis whenever a need arose on his farm. At the Conference I attended the session Vets and Owners – Helpful Interactions presented by Dr. Nickie Baird. Dr. Baird suggested that farms that do not have a means of transporting a lama to the vet for emergency care should try to make arrangements with two or three trailer owners for use of a trailer in an emergency. With this level of redundancy the odds are better that a trailer would be available when needed. It has occurred to me that a useful function of the local lama associations would be to develop a list of available emergency transport for those of its members who do not have access to a trailer. This type of list need not be limited to owners of camelids. Think about it.

Emergency C-Section on the Farm

 Dr. Baird raised the question of Emergency C-Sections on the farm in the aforementioned presentation. Basically it is an issue of risks and likely outcomes. In some instances the additional post­operative infection risk may be a good trade off if a better outcome (i.e., survival of mother and/or cria) due to timeliness of the operation. Each situation must be assessed on its own merits.

Artistry, Fun and Games

Jeanne attended the all-day workshop This is Nuno Felting! given by Sharon Costello. I was quite taken with the scarfs made by the participants. They were beautiful!

A number of conference attendees ended up needle felting in the Wool Room.

Ridge Mist Llamas had the cutest little stuffed llamas for sale. They very obediently would sit on one’s shoulder and many of them ended up going to sessions with their owners. Jeanne and I ended up with a non-breeding pair.